The following article appeared in the Idaho Mountain Express for
July 2, 2004. View the original article online at
Advocates ask for more wilderness -- Simpson's Boulder-White Clouds plan
criticized for catering to motorized groups
By Greg Stahl, Express Staff Writer
Congressman Mike Simpson was prepared for criticism when he stood before
more than 200 local residents in Ketchum on Thursday morning.
"I want you all to know Iím ready for this," he said. "I had my Tums. I
had my Zantac. And I had my aspirin."
full house of local and South Central Idaho residents gathered in
Ketchum on Thursday to listen or add their 2 cents on Second
District Republican Congressman Mike Simpsonís proposal to designate
wilderness in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains. Express photos
by David N. Seelig
Simpson and several of his staffers stopped in Ketchum for a two-hour town
hall meeting at the American Legion Hall. The purpose of the visit was to
collect public input on his proposed Central Idaho Economic Development
and Recreation Act proposal, which he said he plans to submit to Congress
later this summer.
In a nutshell, the proposed legislation would designate 294,000 acres of
federal land as wilderness, establish a network of permanent off-road
vehicle trails and offer federally managed land to Custer County as part
of a package designed to give the rural county an economic shot in the
The congressmanís opening joke about stomach pain proved prophetic. The
vast majority of the people who spoke at the Ketchum meeting were
wilderness supporters who said more wilderness is necessary to preserve
wildlife habitat, clean water and a legacy for future generations.
Moreover, most wilderness supporters stressed that wilderness designation
is bigger than themselves or their abilities to gain access to it.
Carol King is a strong advocate of the Northern Rockies Ecosystem
Protection Act and a co-founder of the NREPA Network, which strives
to implement a more far reaching wilderness bill. Express photos by
David N. Seelig
They were critical of the proposed land giveaway to Custer County. They
were critical of proposed motorized corridors. They were critical of the
proposed involvement of the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation as a
management entity in the Sawtooth Valley.
A handful of off-road vehicle advocates from the Snake River Plain braved
the overwhelmingly green crowd to express their feelings of being
increasingly shut out of places to which they enjoyed historic access.
Simpson said he got what he expected, and he was prepared with a rebuttal
at the meetingís conclusion. He told the crowd to buck up and compromise.
"If weíre going to say that we need to take all this out and make it all
wilderness, we may as well just go home," he said. "What I want you all to
do, if you would please, I want you to understand that compromises arenít
easy Ö You need to put yourself in other peopleís shoes for a while.
Thatís what Iíve done, and itís changed the way I look at it."
But Wood River Valley residents and Idaho conservation groups said at the
meeting that the congressman has a long way to go.
Ketchum resident Deborah Kronenberg pointed out that wilderness is not
about human use, but the lack thereof.
"Itís just not about us," she said. "Itís not wilderness if itís cut by
Kronenberg said she has not been able to access the mountains of Central
Idaho for two years, but she looks forward to the day she can return, if
that day comes.
"If I canít get there on my own two feet, Iím not going," she said. "Itís
enough to know itís there. The backcountry is not just about human use.
Itís too dear and rare for that."
Conversely, Mark Alexander, the public lands director for the Magic Valley
Trail Machine Association, said Simpsonís proposal would add about 10
percent to Idahoís existing wilderness. He sees that as 10 percent too
"Our stand is, we feel there is too much wilderness now," he said. "Weíve
given in to wilderness all too often. We hope that you can see our needs."
To a degree, the public hearing was a whoís who of the Idaho conservation
community. The Idaho Conservation League, Boulder White Clouds Council,
Western Watersheds Project, Wilderness Society and NREPA Newtwork were all
But there were also local politicians, local merchants and local
residents. For every person who spoke, about six watched without saying a
word. Of the local speakers, almost all were pro-wilderness and critical
of Simpsonís plan.
"To me, wilderness isnít about recreation: us, them, who gets what," said
Lynne Stone, executive director of the Boulder White Clouds Council. "I
know youíre reasonable. I know the Republican Party cares about the
environment and wildlife, and we can fix this."
Stone said the proposed motorized recreation on the western front of the
White Cloud Mountains is unacceptable. She and others predicted that the
numbers of motorized users would increase dramatically should Simpsonís
framework be adopted as law.
"We urge you to get rid of this absurd idea of opening Champion Lakes to
motorized use. Champion Lakes is not even open to mountain bikes," Stone
Idaho Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, joined others in criticizing a
proposal to give money and land to the Idaho Department of Parks and
Recreation for motorized recreation and campground development.
"I donít think they should be getting this designation," she said. "I
donít think they should be taking over management from the federal land
managers. Itís an under-funded agency. Theyíre having a difficult time
taking care of what theyíve got on their plate right now."
Displaying a penchant for wit on the public stage, Ketchum Mayor Ed Simon
wrapped up the dialogue fittingly.
"In Ketchum, our economic vitality is the mountains around us," he said.
"Wilderness designation requires very little federal action and no federal
money. When I get stressed from day-to-day life here, I simply go north to
the mountains for rejuvenation. I want you to know, congressman, that more
wilderness means less Zantac, less Tums, less aspirin."